Zombie Army 4: Dead War highlights how Rebellion are masters of Nintendo Switch ports

The UK-based studio renowned for the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army titles has consistently delivered amazing ports on Nintendo's hybrid console (Images via Rebellion Developments)
The UK-based studio renowned for the Sniper Elite and Zombie Army titles has consistently delivered amazing ports on Nintendo's hybrid console (Images via Rebellion Developments)

The Nintendo Switch is home to a variety of gaming experiences, many of which have made it over to the handheld device for the first time.

This includes titles from Rebellion, a UK-based game development studio. They have virtually brought over all modern games from their catalog, like Sniper Elite 4, Strange Brigade and Zombie Army 4: Dead War, to the hybrid console.

However, unlike most other AAA games on the platform, these conversions have not seen any significant cutbacks β€” comparatively, at least. In fact, they hold up impressively versus their last-gen PlayStation and Xbox counterparts, given the power gap between Big N's portable and the two stationary machines.


Rebellion's ports showcase the utmost care brought to Nintendo Switch development

Let’s take Rebellion's latest offering on the platform, Zombie Army 4: Dead War, which was recently analyzed by YouTube channel Digital Foundry.

The third-person zombie-themed shooter was released earlier this year for the portable. What is impressive right off the bat is the fact that the dynamic resolution scaling (DRS) implementation is very lax. In other words, the game is one of the cleanest-looking third-party ports on the system.

As far as the raw numbers go, the Nintendo Switch version averages around a native 1920 x 1080 resolution, with the lowest threshold being around 918p. The latter occurs only during extremely intense scenarios, such as cutscenes with a lot of effects like explosions and fire.

The portable mode also holds a native 1280 x 720 image with even less frequent DRS drops (which goes down to 648p).

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The performance side of things is even more jaw-dropping as the game runs at a solid 30 FPS throughout (bar the rare frame-time inconsistencies). Yes, this is regardless of what is happening on-screen, from lonely indoors to open areas with dozens of zombies flooding the screen.

The devs claim that up to 80-100 zombies can be sustained on-screen on the PlayStation 4 version (which was used for comparison). However, the same is true of the Nintendo Switch, despite its far weaker CPU.

Of course, given the lower hardware specs of the system, sacrifices had to be made to achieve these metrics. The most notable cutbacks were made to the shadows and ambient occlusion (or AO, shadowing on characters and assets).

Character models (like zombies) do not cast any shadows at all. Since AO has been parred back significantly, it leaves the final image looking fairly bland.

However, other aspects make up for it, including comparable model quality, intact level design, etc. Some aspects of the environment, such as textures and reflections, take a 50/50 approach. Major assets retain high-quality detail, while smaller, less noticeable areas can get away with blemishes.

For example, large bodies of water display screen space reflections (SSR), a taxing rendering method for reflective surfaces. To make up for that, smaller reflective assets (like puddles) will revert to a cube map tailored to the relevant surroundings.


Tech wizardry at its finest

So how was all of this made possible on the tiny handheld device? The team at Eurogamer spoke to members from Rebellion, who offered insight into the development process for the handheld.

Care was taken to optimize each aspect, like the levels themselves, as each posed a different issue and cost of rendering to fit into Nintendo Switch's memory budget.

The game also comes in at just 6.4 GB for the Nintendo Switch version versus 20 GB+ on other platforms. This was done by careful elimination of duplicate data and further streamlining their compression techniques.

This is also true of Rebellion's older titles, from their first project Rogue Troopers all the way up to Sniper Elite 4. All of them sport both great visual clarity and solid performance.

These days, Major Nintendo Switch ports from third parties often go for one over the other. At this point, it wouldn't be surprising to see Sniper Elite 5 also come to Big N's handheld in the future.

What are your thoughts on Rebellion's conversions for the system?

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Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh
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